With each white supremacist attack on our democracy and the values that guide us, I, like many of you, feel overcome with sadness, fear, and anger. When my exhaustion gets the best of me, I begin to feel numb. I know my go-to coping strategy is to dive into work. I have told myself that I can (or should!) “focus on work as a distraction.” But I’d like to offer you a different, more values-aligned practice we can try together: focus on work as a way to do your part in dismantling white supremacy.
Here’s what I’m practicing:
(1) Prioritize rest -- for yourself and for your teams. Living through ongoing crises is draining! To process continued trauma, or brains require rest. (And when we don’t get it, we often perpetuate the culture of white supremacy that fuels these attacks.) Move deadlines, cancel or shorten meetings, lead by example in ending your workday at a reasonable hour, and accept “good enough” instead of insisting on perfection.
Note: These are all antiracist acts! People from the marginalized groups that are targeted by white supremacist attacks (BIPOC, Jews, queer folx) often feel added generational trauma when reading the news and seeing images of nooses, Confederate flags, Nazi symbols, and other symbols that evoke the murders and persectuion of our ancestors. The expectation that we be “productive” while processing this is inhuman. To give significant space for processing it is antiracist.
(2) Don’t give in to feeling numb. Don’t feel impacted by current events? It’s common to feel a sense of numbness when horrible things happen so relentlessly. (It’s the “freeze” in fight, flight, or freeze.) That numbness is usually my cue to rest. Once I get that rest, I often feel a sense of anger (fight!). Anger can feel scary, but I find it’s a very powerful tool when used carefully. Hence my next recommendation!
Note: Just like resting can be an antiracist act, so too can giving significant space for processing feelings -- especially uncomfortable ones like anger. We’re socialized to assume that processing our feelings detracts or distracts from our productivity, but in fact it’s an powerfully productive thing to do. Prioritizing processing feelings is an act of resistance against white supremacy. Plus, it’ll make your organization more productive, in a way you’ll feel prouder of, in the long run.
(3) Use your anger to fuel your DEI work. Once I push past the numbness, I can access my anger (sometimes at particular people, often at systems of oppression and the state of the world.) When wielding that anger thoughtfully (and not misdirecting it toward my colleagues!), it fuels me to recommit to my work with you and my activism outside my office. My hope is that your anger fuels you to see every interaction you have and decision you make at work as an opportunity to live your values, and make your organization more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. What a rebellious, antiracist act that is!
Dismantling white supremacy culture is a monumental task and we all have roles to play. Through our work together, we’re identifying many ways for you to dismantle it within your workplaces -- and we can’t do that if we don’t name the ways in which white supremacist attacks are impacting us.
This is ongoing and very challenging work. I’m honored to be your guide through it. If you’d like some extra time together to help process or strategize about how you’re showing up as a leader during this time, please reach out.